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St. Pete council members like what they see in mayor's budget — so far

ST. PETERSBURG — Council members will have months to sift through the proposed budget Mayor Rick Kriseman submitted to them last week.

But many said that, at first glance, they don't have a lot to complain about.

"It looks to me like the mayor heard what people were saying," council member Karl Nurse said. "I think taking our money and reinvesting it in jobs and neighborhoods is well-spent. I'm pretty happy with the focus."

Kriseman's $216.3 million budget, boosted by $5.5 million more in property tax revenue than originally planned, includes more money for neighborhoods, economic development, the arts, homeless issues and youth employment.

Nurse, who has criticized the small amount of money the city spent in the past few years on advertising, said he is particularly interested in knowing more about the extra $700,000 for marketing.

Kriseman delivered his budget a week ago, but left for vacation shortly after. Council members also were on vacation last week, and most have not yet delved deeply into the details.

Officials return this week, and the council has until the end of September to give final approval to the budget.

"In general, I'm happy that we have made investments that align with priorities," council member Amy Foster said. "I still have questions about how the budget was balanced. … I think we're close, but we just have some more questions we need answered."

Like Nurse, Foster said she wanted more details about the use of marketing funds.

She also wants to see funding for the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, which is not currently in the budget. (The mayor did meet an expectation that he would increase a portion of arts funding by $100,000. But he has not specifically added more money for arts grants, for which advocates have lobbied. Some of the $100,000 could still be shifted for that purpose, though.)

Foster also said she has questions about the Police Department's $90 million budget. One of the ways officials plan to cut costs at the agency is eliminating $642,999 in overtime. But Foster wonders if that's realistic.

Interim police Chief Dave DeKay said the department tries to rein in overtime every year.

City spokesman Ben Kirby said he did not have details on the overtime cuts or how they would be achieved.

Kirby did, however, have a breakdown of the extra marketing funds. He said $471,000 is for advertising and campaign development, $46,000 for new photography and supplies, $35,000 for printing and campaign production, $78,600 for enhanced TV programming services and equipment, and $67,800 for special events sponsorships and services.

Council members Darden Rice, Charlie Gerdes and Steve Kornell said they want more details about a tentative 5.5 percent rate hike for utility users.

"I have a big question about why we would raise water and sewer rates," Rice said. "I especially have problems from a department that's making money anyway."

City Administrator Gary Cornwell said the increase isn't final. He said officials are working with consultants to complete a rate study, which takes into account things like projected water usage, increases in the city's bill with Tampa Bay Water, debt payments and future capital projects.

Council members said they appreciate that the mayor has put more money into homeless efforts ($50,000 more for the Safe Harbor shelter and $75,000 for a program at St. Vincent De Paul) and $25,000 more for summer youth jobs.

"You have all these kids that want to work and want to be a part of society, and we just tell them no," Kornell said.

Every year, he said, 800 to 900 youth apply for a little more than 100 slots.

The city must set a tentative millage rate on July 24. (Kriseman has recommended maintaining the $6.77 per $1,000 of assessed value.) Public hearings on the budget are set for Sept. 4 and Sept. 18.

"I think compared to the last few years, there's this sense that we've climbed out the valley — but there's still some tall peaks ahead," Rice said.

Contact Kameel Stanley at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.

.fast facts

On the Web

To browse the proposed budget, visit www.stpete.org.

St. Pete council members like what they see in mayor's budget — so far 07/07/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2014 11:03pm]
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